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July 26, 2011 / Melissa Yuan-Innes

Why I’ve joined the indie publishing revolution

I did not want to join the independent publishing revolution.  No, I wanted New York to discover my genius and send my books on to bestsellerdom.

I sent my novels to editors and garnered some interest, including one editor who asked for a three-book proposal so she could sell it to her boss and many, many other editors who asked for partial or full manuscripts.

Funny thing, though.  These hard-working, intelligent editors were disappearing.  Losing their jobs.  Mutating into agents.  Being replaced by junior editors who didn’t respond to my queries, probably because they’d just taken over two people’s jobs and didn’t have time.

Two of my writing mentors, Kris Rusch and Dean Smith, had written extensively about indie publishing.  It seemed like all of my Oregon friends had joined the revolution but, to be perfectly honest, I was afraid it would be like a Tupperware party where we all tried to sell to one another.

I resisted.  I wanted a “real” book.  But I kept seeing good editors vanish.  Magic 8 ball said:  bad sign.

So, in 2010, I said, This is my last-ditch effort to do it the old-fashioned way.  I attended three major conferences:  NJ SCWBI (3 months pregnant), RWA Nationals (5 1/2 months), and the Rutgers One-on-One (eight months–my new friend Karen was secretly afraid I’d go into labor).  I shook hands, I attended panels, I made friends with an agent or two.  I also marketed two of my books as radio dramas.

On November 19th, I delivered my baby girl, Anastasia.

In January 2011, I got a deal for a radio drama pilot with the potential to go national.  Aaagh!  Two major dreams coming true almost simultaneously.  I was so happy, I could hardly sleep.  Matt looked after Anastasia while I wrote and developed my radio drama.

I kept an eye on indie publishing, sort of.  But when the CBC decided not to pick up my series, I had to sit down and take a serious look.

This is what I understood, filtered through Kris and Dean and The Passive Guy:

1.  Borders has collapsed, taking down 10 percent of the bookselling market in the U.S.

Other big box bookstores have moved away from selling physical books, e.g. more than one person has said, “Chapters now seems to specialize in gift wrap.”

Ergo, even if publishers are willing to gamble on my book, book-selling space is fast disappearing.

2.  The publishing industry survives on about 4-5 percent profit (and just lost 10% of its physical sales in the U.S.).

Publishing is now run by bean counters and sales teams who want a quick profit on a book instead of letting editors choose books they love and keeping books around to build word of mouth.

So it’s increasingly difficult to sell your book and to get a decent contract (they want rights in all media; 25% of ebook sales is a non-negotiable term; royalty statements need auditing, etc.).

3.  Readers still want to read.

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet and other new-fangled technology, I can now sell my work directly to readers and keep most of the profit myself by acting as publisher and writer.  Sure, the perpetual party question will still be “Are you a real writer?” but as Dean points out, as long as I’m a good writer putting out a good product, willing to wait for years of small sales instead of getting it as an advance, at least I’m in control over the content, cover, and to some extent, the distribution.  Truthfully, I love doing my own covers.  I think of it as an extension of my creativity.  But if I ever decide they are too primitive, I can just hire someone to redo them.  I have also hired proofreaders.

(BTW, now that I think about it, the who ask me “But are you a real writer” tend not to be readers.  They tend to more interested in status.)

4.  I believe we are at, or near, the tipping point for e-publication.  The space for physical books is dropping while the e-reading audience is growing.  For obvious reasons, I want some of my children’s stuff out on the market before J.K. Rowling makes her debut in October.

5.  I no longer need New York or anyone else to tell me if my work is good enough.

What the CBC really did for me was give me confidence in my own writing.

As Rumi wrote,

Something opens our wings. Something

makes boredom and hurt disappear.

Someone fills the cup in front of us.

We taste only sacredness.

Full poem here.

What is important to me is not so much the form (paper or pixels) or the prestige.  I just want people to have access to my stories.  When the CBC paid me thousands of dollars to develop a pilot, it soothed my hurt and insecurity.  I no longer thought “I’ve only published short stories and non-fiction.  I’m not a real writer until these novels hit the shelves.”  I thought, “We’re all real writers.  I just need to get to the real readers/listeners/customers.”

And that, my friends, is why I have joined the independent book publishing revolution.

Copyright 2011, Melissa Yuan-Innes

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5 Comments

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  1. Marie Simas / Jul 28 2011 1:13 am

    So, a Google Alert showed up today, and your blog was on it. Apparently, your book buyers also are my book buyers, (according to Amazon, anyway). Your book “The Most Unfeeling Doctor..” sounds fantastic, just from the description. I want it. So I’m downloading to my Kindle right… now… and it’s done. Good luck with the indie publishing. I’ve been doing it since 2007 and I’m doing quite well. Not “buy your own island rich” but definitely doing well. Better than most plastic surgeons, in fact. Not bad for a frustrated Medieval history major that spent a wasted decade waitressing. Anhoo… my prediction is that you’ll be selling like hotcakes in about 6 months. Enjoy being a full-time writer– it’s a blast. And congrats on NOT getting that book deal. You’ll make more money, have more freedom, and get treated with a lot more respect.

    • melissayuaninnes / Jul 28 2011 2:08 pm

      First of all, you are the first “Unfeeling” reader to contact me, so thanks! Secondly, I can already tell that you’re a kindred spirit. I had actually tweeted your book title because I thought it was so funny!

      You’re making a better living than most plastic surgeons? No way! I’ll be in touch. Maybe we could do guest bloggy things? And maybe you could explain how Google Alert would tell you about books that are like your own?SS

    • melissayuaninnes / Jul 28 2011 2:08 pm

      First of all, you are the first “Unfeeling” reader to contact me, so thanks! Secondly, I can already tell that you’re a kindred spirit. I had actually tweeted your book title because I thought it was so funny!

      You’re making a better living than most plastic surgeons? No way! I’ll be in touch. Maybe we could do guest bloggy things? And maybe you could explain how Google Alert would tell you about books that are like your own?

  2. James W. Lewis / Jul 29 2011 9:30 pm

    Great article. We decided on the Indie route in Dec 2009 after realizing we could do everything as good as the “big boys” (marketing, distribution, etc). Three books later, I’m very happy with this DIY move, especially with the explosion of ebooks.

    • melissayuaninnes / Jul 30 2011 4:02 pm

      Fascinating. I love that you’ve done everything from the Navy to rap to DIY writing. Also, as far as I’m concerned, there are never enough good stories for and by people of colour. Thanks for stopping by!

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